Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

To dye for? Jury still out on tattoo ink causing cancer

By Ian Olver

There is no doubt some of the chemicals in tattoo ink have been associated with cancer. But should we be worried?

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Scientists have recently raised alarm over the possibility that some inks used for tattoos contain cancer-causing chemicals.

To make matters worse, some pigments come as small particles called nanoparticles that could easily enter the bloodstream and accumulate in organs such as the spleen and kidneys. These organs filter impurities and their failure may ultimately increase the risk of cancer.

But should we be worried? Let’s look at the evidence.

Tattoo ink

There is no doubt some of the chemicals in tattoo ink have been associated with cancer.

The red colours can contain mercury which causes cancer in rats and growth problems in babies of exposed women. But no definite evidence exists of linking mercury exposure in humans to cancer.

The greens and blues contain cobalt, which has been found to cause cancers in animals - however, the risk in humans needs to be explored further.

One component of black ink, benzo(a)pyrene, is a potent cancer-causing chemical and has been...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.